‘The Manchurian Candidate’ (2004)

The Manchurian Candidate (2004) Pre-screening comments, Apr 10, 2004
I’ve given this a little thought, and the ‘Manchurian Candidate’ (2004) might end up being the film we need as we ramp up to the Fall elections.

I too, am a fan of the original. But before you diss this remake out of hand, remember that Demme comes from an artsy, NY, Indy film background. He’s seldom just a ‘hired gun’. If he’s chosen to maintain the original title, IN SPITE OF the change in locale and time-period, it’s for *artistic* reasons. I suspect that the original title is being maintained as a self-conscious *metaphor*, rather than a *literal*.

Given the current political climate, our current U.S. adventures in Afganistan and Iraq, and the long-standing Bush legacy in the Oil States, this film might end up being MORE on-point than any of us could suspect. After all, George W. did give the go-ahead that allowed members of the bin Laden family to be the only persons flying in U.S. airspace on September 12, 2001. And Neil Bush was tied up in the BCCI banking scandal back in the ’80′s.

Has the current Middle-Eastern conflict really been conducted in the interests of the American people, or is it all about the American and Middle Eastern Oil-interests that are trying to get more control over the oilfields and trying to build a Trans-Caucasus Oil pipeline?

The ‘Exxon/Enron/Halliburton Candidate’ is already a matter of fact. What little ‘tweaking’ would this entire scenario, c. 2004, require to turn the premise into a ‘remake’ of the 1962 film?

It’s not the ’80′s anymore, and somehow I doubt that Denzel and Demme would just toss their Oscar-credibility into the vanity-bonfire on a whim like this.

July 30, 2004

What a strange fever-dream.

There’s lots not to like here – the editing, the cinematography, even some of the script – but in the end, it all comes off well-enough for the diminished expectations of a remake.

Many aspects of the original film came off as excerpts from an episode of ‘The Twilight Zone’, with the Sino-Soviet panel of military men and scientists populating the gallery of the operating theater, even as Raymond Shaw and Sgt. Marco believed they were participating in some Ladies Garden Show. Jonathan Demme’s remake is somehow much darker and more absurd.

It is almost as though Demme and the screenwriters spliced-out thematic and psychological elements from ‘Jacob’s Ladder’, ‘Conspiracy Theory’ and ‘Three Kings’, when they chose to seek out locations and plot-arcs for this new film – much to the point that some of the locations were actually shot in Kuwait, and several (ahem) crowded apartments. And then with the ‘technology’ of this new film, I actually thought, for several moments, that they had mislabeled the genre of the thing, when it turned into some sort of wonky science-fiction film – microchips! The Borg! – a few long moments.

There were several stretches of the film that seemed to be too lugubrious, unnecessary in their duration, and that the plot elements sometimes seemed to keep expanding, exploding in some vague, incomprehensible directions – BUT. But I also realized that this wasn’t so much of a character-driven piece, as much as it was a strange confab of ensemble-piece and a thriller. We never ever get too far inside the heads of either the protagonist (Washington/Marco) or his demons.

Having seen the original several times, I was more or less familiar with the scheduled betrayals, assassinations and gamesmanship that was going to unfold, down to the sly card-game of the film’s opening credits – I wish even that could have been handled just a bit differently. But it is what it is – Demme’s film, not mine.

There are lots of nice little ‘easter-eggs’ hidden in the film’s subtext: Cameos by Roger Corman, Bruno Ganz (for the New German film-buffs), BeBe Winans (who sung ‘The Star-Spangeld Banner’ at the Boston DNC Convention, just this past week), Al Franken and Dean Stockwell. But the film ultimately comes off as a sort of absurd conspiracy theory, rather than the ‘Stepford Candidate’ situation that I was expecting. I suppose I was expecting that the whole film would have been framed with greater plausibility – more ‘realism’ than the final product afforded, rather than the ideational bombast that is the final product. Again, Demme’s film, not mine.

Reality is just a bit more scary.
Rating: ★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆

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